Each year, Keystone—a small town of less than five-hundred permanent residents—sees millions of visitors from around the world pass through on their way to witness one of America’s prized national memorials: Mount Rushmore. However, the history of this little mountain town spans well before the carving of the four stone presidents.
As with many towns in the Black Hills, gold was the catalyst for Keystone. At the height of the Black Hills gold rush, miners discovered gold just east of present day Keystone along Battle Creek. More and more gold seekers began to try their luck along the creek and soon the town of Harney, located southeast of Keystone, was established.
Panning in the creek became increasingly difficult as miners had to sift through more and more gravel to get to the pay dirt. By the early 1880s many of the miners left thinking that their claims had played out. However, three men named A.J. Simmons, William Claggett, and T.H. Russell believed they could use powerful hydraulics to dig through the waste rock. These men formed the Harney Hydraulic Gold Mining Company and spent nearly $2,000,000 building an infrastructure of flumes and sluices to work nearly six miles of gold claims. One flume, that transported water from both Grizzly Bear and Battle Creeks, was 700 feet long and suspended nearly 200 feet above the ground. Unfortunately, their ambitious scheme never yielded a profit and the men sold the company and abandoned the project.
In the later years, many other mines would spring up in the Keystone area. The Etta Mine was a rich tin mine that was later bought by the Harney Peak Tin Mining, Milling, and Manufacturing Company, headquartered in Hill City. It was abandoned after the company could not make a profit but was later discovered that the mine was even richer in lithium and would be mined sporadically until the mid-1900s. The Keystone Mine, for which the town received its name, was discovered in 1891 by William Franklin and was known for its rich gold ore. It would later be combined with the nearby Holy Terror Mine, also founded by Franklin and playfully named after his wife. The dangers of working these mines, however, would eventually cause the closing of their operations.
It was with this abundance of mines that the town Keystone began to take shape. Workers built houses and soon other businesses came to support the townspeople living there. Saloons, hotels, churches, a school, and even multiple town newspapers were developed. The town wasn’t without hardship, however. Many of the local mines closed or were mined very sporadically which made it hard for residents to stay in the town.
However, in the 1920s and man with an ambitious dream came to the area with the intention of carving Americas history into the side of a nearby mountain named Mount Rushmore. This man was Gutzon Borglum. Borglum had been looking for an opportunity to make a name for himself and he found it at Rushmore. His plan was to carve the faces of past American presidents that made significant contributions to American history. He decided on Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.
Borglum would need help to accomplish this huge task, however, and locals answered the call. Businesses invested in the project because they wanted to profit off the tourism it would bring. Many local miners provided the manpower because they were familiar with drilling and blasting rock, even though this work was 500 feet above the ground rather than under it. It took fourteen years and about 400 men and women to complete the work. The influx of money and people kept the town of Keystone alive.
Today, Keystone is lively and filled with tourists during the summer and is a quiet mountain town in the winter. The local attractions and businesses provide visitors from around the world with a fun and exciting experience unique to the Black Hills and also gives families a chance to learn the history and culture of the area and snap plenty of classic family photos.
Arts & Culture
Keystone is the home of multiple skilled artists eager to show the common art aficionado their craft. Dahls Chainsaw Art is one of them. Jarret Dahl is a skilled sculptor who uses his chainsaw to carve bears, eagles, and other creative images out of local ponderosa pines.
Black Hills Glassblowers is located on Old Hill City Road and is ran by Peter Hopkins and Gail Damin. These artists shape red-hot, molten glass into beautiful creations using their own breath and incredible skill. During the summer months, visitors have the opportunity to ponder their creations and witness the glassblowing process for themselves.
Keystone is dedicated to telling history and culture of the area and the United States. Many different museums and interpretive centers provide visitors with this story.
Keystone Area Historical Society is dedicated to the preservation of buildings and artifacts that contribute to the historical significance of Keystone and the surrounding area.
The Keystone Historical Museum is located in an old Victorian schoolhouse and tells of Keystone’s mining history as well as boasts a collection of artifacts once owned by Carrie Ingalls from the stories told in “Little House on the Prairie” who lived in Keystone for most of her life. The museum also manages a walking tour of the town with information provided by signs and a free brochure.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial has many resources that provide the history of Mount Rushmore and of the United States. The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center houses many artifacts and interpretive information on the Memorial an the presidents it depicts. Also found there is the Sculptors Studio which is located along the Presidential Trail and has Gutzon Borglum’s model of the carving on display.
On the way to Mount Rushmore from Keystone, there is a museum dedicated to the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, himself. The Rushmore Borglum Story provides an audio tour through many displays telling the story of Borglum’s life through his early years and into his times as a monumental artist.
For those interested in the gold mining heritage of the hills, the Big Thunder Gold Mine provides tours through a former mine and also explains the hardships miners faced as they attempted to extract the riches from the (hopefully) promising earth. Visitors also have the chance to pan for their own gold as well.
Walking through the Presidential Wax Museum, visitors will view displays of all the previous presidents of the United States and listen to the challenges, failures, and successes of each during their time in office.
The Keystone Public Library is located in the Keystone Community Center at 1101 Madill St. in keystone and has varying hours. to view these hours, please visit http://www.keystonechamber.com/about/community
The Keystone Project Ministry Center is located in Keystone and is still undergoing construction. The Keystone project is dedicated to training and organizing missionaries to embark on “disciple-making” trips around the world.